'I'm stoked for him': SVG's high praise for McLaughlin

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 15/04/2021
  • By James Pavey

Shane van Gisbergen will be firmly in the corner of great Supercars rival Scott McLaughlin this weekend as he makes his full-time competitive IndyCar debut.

Red Bull Ampol Racing ace van Gisbergen and McLaughlin were joined at the hip for much of the latter’s time with the Shell V-Power Racing Team between 2017 and 2020.

WATCH: MOST-WATCHED MCLAUGHLIN MOMENTS

In those four seasons, the two New Zealanders combined to win 69 races, with McLaughlin claiming three straight titles between 2018 and 2020.

In their final full-time race together, at last October’s Bathurst 1000, van Gisbergen claimed a career-defining win, much like McLaughlin did 12 months earlier.

Two great rivals

The duo’s next battle will have to wait until this October’s Great Race, with McLaughlin slated for a co-drive with the Shell Ford squad.

In McLaughlin’s absence, van Gisbergen has been the form driver in the Repco Supercars Championship, winning all five races to this weekend’s Beaurepaires Tasmania SuperSprint.

While delighted for his countryman’s IndyCar opportunity, van Gisbergen admitted he has missed going door-to-door with McLaughlin.

“He was very good, specifically in qualifying,” van Gisbergen told Fox Sports News on Wednesday.

The two on track last season

“In some ways, I’m gutted not to be racing him, because I feel like we’ve made some big steps forward this year.

“This weekend is his first race in the States, and I’ll be supporting and watching him on Monday morning.

“I’m stoked for him to move on, but on the other hand, I wish I was still racing him.”

The two drivers famously went toe-to-toe for the 2018 title, with McLaughlin clinching his first crown at the Newcastle finale.

WATCH: PUKEKOHE PARK-IN

While there have been moments of tension along the way, such as the 2018 Pukekohe park-in and the dramatic Townsville finale last year, the two drivers have maintained a respectful relationship.

In 2019, van Gisbergen showed his care for McLaughlin by trying to extract his Ford rival from his damaged car following a shocking Gold Coast accident.

Van Gisbergen said McLaughlin spoke about the remarkable IndyCar speeds in a texting exchange, with the former in awe of his contemporary’s new challenge.

"As long as he’s going well and having the time of his life, I’m happy for him,” van Gisbergen said.

WATCH: SVG COMES TO SCOTT’S AID

“Texting him last week, he was doing laps at Indy, and 230mph is the average speed there, it’s just insane.

“It’s pretty cool to get that perspective from him.”

Speaking on his Balls & Bumpers podcast last month, McLaughlin laid down the gauntlet to van Gisbergen's rivals to bring a halt to the 2016 champion's 2021 dominance.

“Do I think he can be beaten? Yeah, but people need to pressure them,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin testing at Indianapolis last week Pic: @Team_Penske

“When they are not getting pressured and know that they are - at the moment - the pacesetters, people need to qualify in front of them, people need to pass them, people need to beat them on pure strategy and make them second-guess themselves. No one is doing that at the moment.

“They outsmarted Cam [Waters] at Bathurst. Shane has just been ultra fast in qualifying. His starts have been probably the best they’ve been in the last three years.

“It’s a lot of things together and the confidence just keeps rolling. Until you can beat them, they won’t crack until then.”

Whether that happens at Symmons Plains this weekend will remain to be seen, with van Gisbergen’s team the form squad at the Launceston circuit.

Triple Eight drivers have won 11 of the last 14 races in Tasmania, with McLaughlin and van Gisbergen sharing the wins in the last visit in 2019.

Van Gisbergen is undefeated in 2021

While conscious of his own form, van Gisbergen acknowledged that the weekend results will come down to which teams have prepared best.

“Everyone hasn’t been there for two years, so we just have to do as best we can with our prep,” he said.

“The last couple of weeks, that’s what we’ve been doing, to make sure we turn up there with the best car we can.

“We’ll find out on Saturday morning whether we’re good enough.”

McLaughlin will make his full-time IndyCar debut at Barber Motorsports Park at 5:30am AEST on Monday morning.

Van Gisbergen will carry a 150-point championship lead over teammate Jamie Whincup into this weekend’s Beaurepaires Tasmania SuperSprint.

The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo.

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